Cody Johnson On His New Album ‘Leather’ And Making Music On His Own Terms: ‘I’m Just Going To Record What I Want’
Johnson’s latest project pays homage to the cowboy lifestyle and speaks to where he is at in his career and personal life.
Cody Johnson; Photo by Chris Douglas
Cody Johnson’s new album, Leather, encompasses everything about his cowboy lifestyle, from his days at home in Texas raising cattle, fixing fences, and breeding horses, all the way down to his love for the true storytelling art of country music.
For Johnson, Authenticity Is Key
Out Friday (Nov. 3), the 12-track project was born from a moment Johnson shared while on the road with Ian Munsick. As the two took turns showcasing some of their new writes, the Wyoming native pulled out the song “Leather,” which he explained was penned in honor of his brothers who “are real cowboys.” Johnson recalled being so eager to not only cut the song but build an entire album around the sincere value it places on a hard day’s work.
“I said, ‘not only would I cut it, I would title my new album after it.’ He goes, ‘Man, I didn’t know you were recording a new album.’ I said, ‘I wasn’t,’” Johnson told Country Now while recounting his conversation with Munsick.
The more he honed in on the lyrics, the more Johnson realized how much the story lines up with his own way of life, which combines his love for singing and writing music with his passion for the rodeo.
“He’ll start out stiff and rough, but give him time and he’ll soften up, and that’s what makes him twice as tough, because a cowboy’s made of leather. You can bend him, but you can’t break him. It takes years of work and dirt and hurt to make him. When the whole world falls apart, he’ll hold together, and that’s how you know a cowboy’s made of leather,” Johnson said referencing the lyrics of the title track.
The ‘Leather’ Album Art Features Johnson’s Hands
“That describes me to a T, unapologetically,” he continued. “When I heard that I went, ‘You know what? I’m at a point in my career where I don’t have to answer to anybody, I’m just going to record what I want.’ And that’s why I titled it that way.”
The “Human” singer captured that same unapologetic storytelling throughout the remainder of the record and even on the cover photo, which offers a snapshot of his hands covered in blood from a real day of working with his cows. The country star assured that this image wasn’t photoshopped or staged in any way, it’s a true product of his efforts.
Does Cody Johnson Write All Of His Songs?
Alongside the seven brand new releases, the project also includes several advanced releases turned fan favorites such as “Work Boots,” “Watching My Old Flame,” “That’s Texas,” and his current single “The Painter.” Leather is made up entirely of outside cuts, meaning Johnson’s name doesn’t appear in the credits of any of the songs. This came as a result of him simply selecting songs that he loved and connected with, whether they were his own or written by another songwriter.
Best Song Wins
“I put my songs in the same pile as their songs. I’m a songwriter too, [but] I’m not biased because it’s my song. If it’s not as good as the one next to it, it’s just not as good as the one next to it. I don’t have any feelings in that regard. Like, I’m not one of those guys that thinks, well, my song is better because it’s my song. If it’s not the best song, it doesn’t go on the record and I hold myself to that same standard.”
With putting together this collection of songs, Johnson went in with the goal of making a purely country album that “speaks to where I am in my career, personally, and to where I am, artistically.” The end result is something he feels is possibly the best round of songs he’s ever had, however, it doesn’t end there because sometime later next year, he revealed plans to unleash a deluxe edition of this with 12 additional songs, making for a total of 24 tracks.
“So this is an appetizer,” Johnson teased.
With this first installment of Leather, the Texas native included two collaborative tunes – “Whiskey Bent” feat. Jelly Roll and “Long Live Country Music“ feat. Brooks & Dunn.
Formed A Friendship With Jelly Roll
According to Johnson, Jelly Roll was originally expected to be featured on another track titled “Jesus Loves You,” however when they got into the studio together, he recalls the “Need A Favor” singer feeling a much deeper connection with the powerful story behind “Whiskey Bent”
“When we got to the studio, I played him ‘Whiskey Bent’ and he’s like crying, like, ‘dude, this song speaks to my soul.’ And I’m like, ‘well, let’s record this one.’ I don’t care who you are, it doesn’t have to be Whiskey…I’m still trying to straighten up what anything bent, any substance, any person in your life, even yourself. I feel like a lot of us can relate to the fact that we’ve hurt people’s feelings in the past or we’ve made mistakes in the past and sometimes those mistakes linger on with you and you still have to try to figure out how to get past them,” he explained of the hard-hitting tune and its ability to relate to so many people. “Someday maybe I’ll do an interview about the things that Whiskey did for me, but it was a very real moment. And I thought, ‘if that song touches you, the way it touches me, then that’s what we need to sing together.’”
He went on to say that his friendship with Jelly Roll has only continued to grow stronger over the years as they discuss the highs and lows of their lives and the different paths they’ve taken to pursue their dreams as artists.
“Honestly, from the time we met, it was like we’ve been friends for a long time. When he met me, he was like, ‘Hey, I want you to know, I modeled my career after you. I’ve been following you for a long time, Cody.’ And he said, ‘I watched what you did staying independent, staying true to yourself until it was the right time to sign the right record deal and still maintaining all your ownership of your masters, your publishing and all that.’ He said, ‘I wanted to be like you, but I’m not, you know, I’m a different thing, but I want you to know how much it means to me.’”
Those words meant the world to Johnson. He said, “And man, that warmed my heart. It filled my heart so much that we just kind of started staying in contact. And we talk about things that bother us, we talk about the music business, we talk about nothing sometimes and just stay in touch and become good friends.”
Collaboration With Brooks & Dunn
Much like how Jelly Roll has looked up to Johnson throughout many moments of his career, the same is true for Johnson’s admiration for the country music icons, Brooks & Dunn. Recording “Long Live Country Music“ marks the second time he has worked with Ronnie Dunn, the first being the song “Red Dirt Road” on the duo’s Reboot album.
“Immediately, he [Ronnie] called me before I had even told anybody about the song He goes, ‘Hey, did you get that song, ‘Long Live Country Music?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’ and he goes, ‘You’re gonna cut it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m thinking about it’ and he goes, ‘Well, if you don’t, I think I am.’ And I said, ‘Well, shoot, why don’t y’all just record it with me?’ And that’s truthfully just how it happened,” Johnson explained.
“As far as vocalists, guys like Ronnie Dunn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Glenn Campbell, when you hear voices like that as a kid, you try to imitate and emulate as much as you can to figure out how, what else can I do? You know, I also used to sit around and listen to Boyz II Men and those great vocal groups and try to do exactly what they did…I think when you do that, you kind of take little tidbits from everybody that you do that with and it winds up being your sound. And Ronnie Dunn, in particular, had a big impact on my voice. Ronnie and Kix together as a duo at Brooks and Dunn had a big influence on the way I feel like a good honky tonk and country music song should sound.”
When Will Fans Get To Hear His Duet With Carrie Underwood?
Luckily, it seems as though fans will be able to hear even more star-studded collaboration on the yet-to-be-officially-announced deluxe album, including a duet with Carrie Underwood that the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year nominee has been teasing on socials.
“I can neither confirm nor deny,” Johnson told Country Now when asked if the duet will appear on the extended project. “The deluxe edition that’s coming out is gonna have some really cool stuff on it and we decided to kind of wait. Her team has been very, very easy to work with and we’re trying to wait for the right time to reveal what we’ve done.”
The deluxe edition of Leather is expected to drop mid-next year, potentially around the summertime, as Johnson predicts.
“It’s gonna be mid-next year probably. I’m thinking around summertime…It’ll be sooner than later. I won’t make you wait until next November, I don’t think,” he hinted.
This marks the third COJO Music / Warner Music Nashville studio album, and follows 2019 Ain’t Nothin’ To It studio album and 2021’s Human The Double Album. His major label catalog also includes Cody Johnson & The Rockin’ CJB Live and A Cody Johnson Christmas.
Is Cody Johnson Touring In 2024?
Cody Johnson will also launch the first leg of his 2024 The Leather Tour on January 19 in Sacramento, CA. Aptly named after his brand-new album, the trek is set to include dates in Arizona, Tennessee, Kansas, Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, and Ohio.
Special guests during the first leg include Justin Moore, Dillon Carmichael and Chris Janson.
Tickets are on sale now at Codyjohnsonmusic.com.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.